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Monday, August 27, 2018

A Reminder of Why Congress Can't Pass Immigration Reform

Thanks to Professor RubĂ©n Rumbaut for pointing me to a story from NPR a few days ago about the quick rise and fall in the summer of 1965 of the A-TEAM--"Athletes in Temporary Employment as Agricultural Manpower." 
The year was 1965. On Cinco de Mayo, newspapers across the country reported that Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz wanted to recruit 20,000 high schoolers to replace the hundreds of thousands of Mexican agricultural workers who had labored in the United States under the so-called Bracero Program. Started in World War II, the program was an agreement between the American and Mexican governments that brought Mexican men to pick harvests across the U.S. It ended in 1964, after years of accusations by civil rights activists like Cesar Chavez that migrants suffered wage theft and terrible working and living conditions.
The end of the Bracero Program came about as part of the 1965 Immigration Act which also ended the decades-old National Origins Quota System that had been designed to limit legal migration to the U.S. to Northern and Western Europeans. Ending the guest worker program meant that farmers had no one to pick the crops, so strong (athletic) young male high school students were supposed to fill in the gap. 
Problems arose immediately for the A-TEAM nationwide. In California's Salinas Valley, 200 teenagers from New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming quit after just two weeks on the job. "We worked three days and all of us are broke," the Associated Press quoted one teen as saying. Students elsewhere staged strikes. At the end, the A-TEAM was considered a giant failure and was never tried again.
So farmers went back to using Mexican immigrants, except that now they were undocumented immigrants or, more diplomatically, people who had entered without inspection (EWIs). And that is still where we are today. We don't want to legalize these workers because then they would have be paid good wages and have adequate housing and health care provided to them. That would raise the prices the farmers would have to charge for their produce, and consumers would complain or start buying food imported from elsewhere. This is the impasse that for decades since has prevented agreement on a reasonable immigration policy in this country.

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